What if I need financial assistance because of COVID-19?
Whether or not your local United Way has a COVID-19 Fund, it may be able to connect you with locally-available resources and accurate coronavirus information. Most United Ways are not set up to provide direct financial assistance to individuals, but we work with many community partners that do. The best way to find available resources in your area is by calling our 211 help number. It's a 3-digit number like 911, but for access to health and human services. Calling 211 will get you a trained resource and referral specialist, who will know what services are available in your area. You can go to www.211.org and type in your zip code. It will provide an alternate number where one is available.
If you have trouble, you can call your local United Way and they may be able to point you in the right direction. Find your local United Way.
Can I volunteer during the pandemic?
Yes. Volunteer needs are changing quickly so be sure to check www.unitedway.org/volunteer often for updates.
It is important to United Way, our staff, volunteers and the people we serve that everyone take precautions when volunteering. We value that individuals and groups want to volunteer in this time of need; however, personal health and safety are always of primary importance.
We encourage everyone to review and follow the recommendations, advice and guidelines set forth by the World Health Organization (WHO), U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and state and local authorities to ensure the health and safety of everyone involved.
If you are feeling ill, exhibiting symptoms or feel more comfortable serving from home, please consider ways to volunteer virtually or remotely to limit the potential for viral transmission. Eligibility requirements will vary by community and assignment, if you are not in a high-risk group and are looking for ways to help, please consider the following:
Considerations for individuals...
- Give. Contributing money is one of the most important actions any individual or group can take to help right now. Consider the COVID-19 Community Response and Recovery Fund. Click here for details.
- Plan ahead. Confirm the need for the activity, that the activity will happen as advertised and if there are any specific safety precautions that should be taken before, during and after the activity.
- Evaluate risk. Do not volunteer if you are uncomfortable with the level of risk of an activity, if you live with or are in frequent contact with people in higher-risk categories for the virus, or if you are feeling ill or feel you might have been exposed to or exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19.
- Safety first. Ensure your safety and that of others by practicing universal infection control precautions including the use of personal protective equipment, washing your hands and maintaining a safe physical distance from others. If volunteering online, make sure you do not ask for or reveal any sensitive or personal information with others.
- Get details. Be sure you understand essential information about each activity, including when it will take place, where and how to get there, the purpose of and who benefits from each task and what’s expected of you as a volunteer.
- Be patient. Expect that shifts or opportunities may be delayed, postponed or cancelled. Please be gracious and understanding of the rapid and unexpected changes taking place during this crisis.
- Donate Blood. The American Red Cross now faces a severe blood shortage due to an unprecedented number of blood drive cancellations during the pandemic.
- Know your limits. If a client needs more help than you can give, or they need a service that you cannot provide, please tell someone. Community organizations have trained staff to support clients in additional ways.
Considerations for organizations...
- Plan. Confirm you have the capacity to recruit, manage and supply volunteers with everything needed for the activity you propose and can accommodate any specific safety precautions that should be taken before, during and after the activity such as cleaning any used spaces (e.g., doorknobs, supplies).
- Community Need. Focus efforts that support high-risk groups, including the elderly, unemployed workers and the poor; persons living with disabilities; migrants and displaced populations; and people experiencing or at risk of experiencing homelessness.
- Evaluate risk. Do not pursue, host or promote any activity if you are uncomfortable with the level of risk to your organization, staff, volunteers or clients. Review and as necessary, revise, policies and practices focused on volunteer screening, liability insurance and the ability to protect privacy and confidentiality.
- Safety first. Ensure the safety of your staff, volunteers and clients by encouraging universal infection control precautions such as the use of personal protective equipment (e.g., mask, gloves), handwashing, maintaining a safe physical distance from others and avoiding touching their eyes, nose and mouth and shaking hands.
- Limit group size. Consider how face-to-face contact can be lessened or removed altogether. When personal contact is unavoidable, minimize risk by limiting group size to no more than ten volunteers at one time.
- Provide details. Make clear essential information about each service opportunity, including when it will take place, where, the purpose of the task and what’s expected of the volunteer. When volunteers arrive, reinforce key messages about the task before them and if possible, hang posters in facilities with best practices for staying safe and healthy.
- Assess volunteers. If an activity serves vulnerable populations, including people in higher-risk categories for the virus, consider what tools you will use to build confidence about the motivation, qualifications, health and skill of your volunteers.
- Cooperate. Do not compete in the market for scarce supplies that healthcare organizations and providers need every day to perform their duties.
- Reprioritize to meet demand. Consider the financial, material, technology and staffing resources needed for your organization to create or modify to provide more virtual and remote opportunities.
Why is United Way involved in the COVID-19 conversation?
United Way is always on the front lines of community problems, both everyday problems and crises. In times of disaster, United Way supports first responders, puts out accurate information and leads long-term recovery. Present in 1,800 communities around the world, United Way has a unique pulse on people's needs. That's why government and public health officials have turned to United Way for our experience, network and capacity as communities struggle with COVID-19. With millions on lockdown, businesses and schools shuttered and unemployment spiking, it's harder than ever before for people to meet basic needs. Local United Ways around the world have mobilized in response, and in the U.S., 211, the go-to resource that connects millions to local resources, is fielding 200-400% more calls than usual.
How is United Way supporting this effort?
United Way Worldwide has established a COVID-19 Community Response and Recovery Fund. This Fund will support communities around the world, helping people most in need access food, shelter, vital information and more, through local United Ways and the 211 network (in the U.S.). During normal times, 211 call specialists answer 12 million requests by phone, text, chat and email to connect people with locally-available food, housing, utility, health care resources and more. We're expecting to field as many calls in the next six months as we usually get in a year.
Why is a United Way Worldwide COVID-19 Fund needed?
Our corporate partners are asking us how they can help. United Way is the strategic philanthropic partner for 91 global companies, helping them invest in communities and engage their employees in CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) activities.
Because we have a unique finger on the “pulse” of community needs, our corporate partners know that United Way Worldwide can direct those dollars to where they’re needed most, and that we’ll steward those donations responsibly. An example is the United for U.S. Fund that United Way Worldwide set up after the government shutdown last year, to help furloughed workers and contractors who were struggling to feed their families. Companies called us asking how to help, and we were able to channel more than $1.7 million to local communities in need (through local United Ways).
This is a health crisis. How will money help?
It’s as much an economic crisis as a health crisis. As businesses cut back or close, unemployment is spiking. Covering rent or utilities, getting food and finding basics like diapers is getting tougher. On top of that, closed schools mean that children from low-wage families might not be eating breakfast or lunch.
For more than 130 years, United Way has stepped up whenever communities need us. United Way is already on the front lines, mobilizing to provide vital services for those in need. United Way is doing what we've always done – tackling the underlying social problems community by community. But now, those problems are magnified. When shuttered schools mean children from low-wage families may not be eating breakfast and lunch, United Way is stepping up. When food pantries are overwhelmed, partially because people who used to donate are now in need of food, United Way is stepping up. And when people who’ve lost jobs need help with the basics, United Way connects them to available local resources. The need is great, and not expected to diminish anytime soon.
What is 211 doing in the U.S.?
In the U.S., state officials in 31 states have activated 211 and are directing the public to call or text with COVID-19 questions and for general assistance. State and local 211 agencies are working closely with public health and emergency management officials and non-profit partners to provide up-to-date information to the public and connect people in need to services that are still available and open.
Common questions have shifted from health questions -- where and how to get tested, symptoms and clarification about the spread of the virus, fact-checking that there are no vaccines available -- to economic questions. People are calling about where to find food, financial assistance and how to make the rent or keep the lights on. As more people lose wages and jobs, communities are looking to United Way for help. In many communities, school officials are coordinating with United Way to figure out how to help educate children and how to ensure they have helalthy meals.
What are local United Ways doing?
United Way Worldwide’s Fund will be supporting local United Ways and any local emergency funds that may be set up by local United Ways, like United Way of Greater King County in Seattle has already done.
Working with the Seattle Foundation, United Way of King County is providing one-time operating grants to fund organizations that serve residents without health insurance and/or access to sick days; residents with limited English language proficiency; healthcare and gig economy workers; and communities of color. The first phase of these rapid-response grants will address the economic impact of reduced and lost work due to the coronavirus outbreak; immediate needs of economically vulnerable populations caused by closures and cancellations related to COVID-19; and increased demand for medical information and support.
It’s not just large United Ways that are stepping up. United Way of Knox County in Galesburg, Illinois is providing free meals to local children while local schools are closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak. These services are meant to combat food insecurity and ensure any student, but especially those from low-wage families, have access to meals. Although especially critical now, providing meal service is not new for staff and volunteers of United Way. As part of their afterschool at-risk supper program, they served 4,000 meals to children in February alone.
Just as the pandemic is global, so is United Way’s response. In many countries, the focus is on clean water, food, education and hygiene needs. In Korea, United Way and the Community Chest of Korea are supporting healthcare workers on the front line, low-income households, and disinfecting communal facilities and public areas. In India, United Ways are focused on hospitals -- making sure health care workers have protective equipment. In Mexico, United Way is supporting families with hygiene kits and educational kits, to ensure children can keep learning and have what they need to stay healthy. United Way Spain and Save the Children have launched a campaign to support 600 under-served families who are at particular risk.
Find a list of local United Ways and their activities here.
Where will the money go?
United Way Worldwide invests all donations in the mission. Ninety-five percent of all donations will serve the most vulnerable. That might mean emergency food, clean water, hygiene supplies, or helping people cover rent or utilities after losing wages or jobs. Some local United Ways have already set up local pandemic funds. But for many communities, the national fund will be the only such support. It will be administered by United Way Worldwide.
Will there be donor reports?
Yes. United Way Worldwide always creates detailed reports that lay out where the donations to our emergency funds go.
Is the Fund global?
Yes, you can choose to donate to communities most in need internationally or in the U.S. United Way steps up wherever our communities need us. We're helping communities affected by COVID-19 all over the world. In Japan, United Way (through its partner, the Central Community Chest of Japan) is aiding families during mandatory school closures by providing meals, learning groups, stocked food banks, and child care for single-parent households. In Korea, United Way and the Community Chest of Korea are supporting healthcare workers on the front line, low-income households, and disinfecting communal facilities and public areas.
There are two ways to donate internationally for non-coronavirus support. Companies can use United Way Worldwide’s International Donor Advised Giving service, which helps navigate the complexity of international charitable giving rules and regulations that differ by country. Individuals who want to give less than $5,000 overseas can use our International Support Fund. So far, we've helped companies and individuals invest $400 million in 100 countries through these services. United Way Worldwide handles all the legal due diligence and compliance, manages grants and helps companies invest in vetted nonprofits (not necessarily local United Ways) that meet their CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) goals.
What else is United Way Worldwide doing?
United Way has also advocated for the U.S. government to provide adequate stimulus funding so charities doing life-saving work can keep their doors open as resources dwindle. As our President and CEO Brian Gallagher put it, “nonprofits across the United States and the world are working 24 hours a day to do everything, including getting food into needy hands, coordinating relief efforts and pushing government and business leaders for greater support. People are rising to the occasion everywhere.”
United Way is uniquely well-positioned to understand and lead community mobilization. We’ve been responding to society’s most pressing problems for more than 130 years, and we’re up for the challenge.